I visited Taize only once, back in the summer of ’99. Among other good memories I have kept from that week is the personality of Brother Roger Schutz, the founder. He had an evident goodness and sincerity, of a kind that one does not easily forget. Clearly, he wanted his life to be wholly centred on Christ. Particularly touching were the moments at the beginning or end of services at which he would pray with a group of little children.

This month is the 7th anniversary of his murder by a deranged Romanian woman. I am very willing to believe that he is not only in heaven now, but has been since shortly after his death; perhaps immediately after.

Yet as far as anyone knows, he never became a member of the Catholic Church. Brought up as a Protestant, he is quoted as having said in 1980, in the presence of Pope John Paul II, “I have found my own identity as a Christian by reconciling within myself the faith of my origins with the mystery of the Catholic faith, without breaking fellowship with anyone.” According to Cardinal Kasper, in an interview given shortly after Br Roger’s death, this was what enabled the founder of Taize to receive Holy Communion at a Catholic Mass, as he did most famously from the hands of Cardinal Ratzinger himself, before the eyes of the world, at the funeral of Pope John Paul, just a few months before he died. It would be preferable, Cardinal Kasper says, not to apply to Br Roger terms such as ‘conversion’ or ‘formal membership’. Br Roger’s own words, Kasper says, should suffice for an explanation.

I suggest that this is nonsense. One is either a member of the Catholic Church or one is not. If one is a member of a denomination which is not the Church that Christ founded, then in order to join the Church that Christ founded, one must leave that community.

Holy Writ tells us in one place, in a phrase that doesn’t in any way impugn the divine innocence, that ‘an evil spirit from the Lord came upon Saul’. Can we not in a similar way see the knife wielded by the lunatic woman as a pale image of the double-edged sword that divides soul from spirit, nature from grace, the Church that Christ founded from man-made sects, Aye from No – and so seeing, tremble?

The most remarkable of these was probably that of the Silesian Anna Marianna Nietch (1766 – 1822), who, having read the lives of ss. Euphrosia and Marina, who lived dressed as men, conceived a desire to imitate them, though her parents wanted to marry her off. Dressed as a man she went to find herself a monastery. The Dominicans in Gidle did not accept her, but the gate opened for “Joseph Werner” at the Dominican house in Sieradź. A few months later, during a celebratory dinner in the refectory, a visiting nobleman was convinced that one of the brothers serving was a woman.  He bet a village on it against the prior. When the novice master realised that the nobleman had not been mistaken, he fainted.  In the night the Dominicans shipped Miss Nietch to the convent of the Dominican nuns in Piotrków [Trybunalski], where she contributed greatly to the renewal of the community in the 1790s, and at the beginning of the C19 she attempted to save the convent in Sochaczew.

From a review of  Dzieje Klasztoru Mniszek Dominikańskich w Piotrkowie Trybunalskim  (Piotrków Trybunalski 2009).

Heresy is either material or formal. The material heretic denies the authority of the Church to declare the faith, but without pertinacity… The formal heretic has a sufficient knowledge of the Church’s authority, but refuses to accept the faith of the true Church, and denies it in at least one point.

These are the signs that are customarily given by which one may judge someone to be a material heretic:-

1. If he would be ready to submit himself to the Church’s judgement when he knew his error, even if in the meantime he tenaciously defends his own opinion.

2. If he knows nothing about the Catholic faith, and has never wondered about it.

3. If, wondering about it, he has sought to know the truth as far as he was able.

Now, if someone delays his conversion from human respect or from carelessness, he is not on that account a heretic; yet he sins against the positive commandment of acquiring the faith, if he delays for a long time.

(Benedict Merkelbach, Summa Theologiae Moralis, I, 746)

Unbaptised infidels are not to be compelled by external force to receive the faith, since to believe belongs to the will; for they cannot be compelled by the Church, since they are not subject to her power, nor by civil society, which lacks spiritual jurisdiction. Still, they can be compelled not to hinder the preaching or practice of the faith in the places where they are by blasphemies, arguments and persecutions, since the Church has received from Christ the right of preaching everywhere. Indeed, they can be compelled by their rulers both to observe the natural law, including natural religion, since the right ordering of society is founded upon this, and also on certain occasions to hear the faith preached.

Baptised infidels can be compelled by spiritual and temporal penalites to return to the faith and to the Church, since by baptism they were made subject to the Church (Council of Trent, session 7, canon 14).

(Benedict Merkelbach, Summa Theologiae Moralis, I, 740)

Sufferings which are not personal punishments come from God (a) for the exercise of virtue and greater merit (Tob. XII, 13); (b) to keep us from sinning (Lk. XXIII, 31); (c) to give an example of virtue and patience to others (Tob. II, 12); (d) to punish the sins of another, as when parents are punished in their children; (e) so that God may show that there is another life; (f) so that the glory or grace of God may shine out the more brightly (Jn IX, 3)  (Benedict Merkelbach, Summa Theologiae Moralis, vol I, 529 n.4)

English: Wine grapes. Español: Uvas de vino ro...

Pentecost is a feast of the Old Law that was transformed into a feast of the New Law. In the Old Law it commemorated the giving of the commandments by God to Moses on Mount Sinai, summed up in the decalogue. In the New, it commemorates and continues the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. St Luke names 17 different categories of people whose ears are opened to the apostolic preaching on Whitsun. This figure itself suggests the old and the new, 10 being the typical figure of the old Law, and 7 being that of the new Law. The same number, according to St Augustine, gives a key to the meaning of the 153 fish caught at the end of St John’s gospel, and which also represent the elect from the old and new covenants.

The ember days of summer fall on the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after Pentecost. It might seem strange to have days of penance in the midst of a joyful octave. St Albert the Great explains that the Whit fast is a fast of exultation and not one of lamentation. It is because we have been made more spiritual by the descent of the Holy Spirit that we are able, as it were naturally, to abstain from carnal foods. Unless I am mistaken, there was no such fast of exultation in the old Law. The new wine in its fermenting bursts the old customs.

Deutsch: Emblem des Pontifikats English: emble...

What is the doctrinal status of ‘geocentrism’? By geocentrism I mean the doctrine that the earth is stationary in the midst of the universe. I don’t want here to consider the discussions amongst astronomers about the different ways of interpreting the phenomena, nor the correct interpretation of various passages of Scripture, nor the patristic testimony, but simply the papal magisterium.

The first relevant text that I know is the Roman Catechism, promulgated in 1566 by order of Pope St Pius V. Under the discussion of the first article of the creed, this catechism states: ‘God also commanded the earth to stand in the midst of the universe, rooted in its own foundations’. Since Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus was published in 1543, this statement about the position of the earth can hardly, I think, have been just an obiter dictum: it seems like a first, relatively gentle, shot across the bows of the heliocentrists.

In 1616, under Pope Paul V, the Holy Office judged the proposition that the earth is not in the centre of the universe to be ‘at least erroneous in faith’, and at the same time declared Copernicanism to be ‘a false, Pythagorean doctrine, wholly opposed to the divine Scriptures.’

In 1633, under Pope Urban VIII, the Holy Office described the same proposition as ‘false in philosophy [i.e. natural science], and, theologically considered, at least erroneous in faith’. I take the first part of this censure to follow logically from the second, since if something is false in theology, it must also be false in any other discipline that could consider it.

In 1992 Pope John Paul II, in an address to the Academy of Sciences, said: ‘the error of the theologians [sic] of the time, when they maintained the centrality of the earth, was to think that our understanding of the physical world’s structure was, in some way, imposed by the literal sense of Sacred Scripture.’

It is clear that Pope John Paul II believed, along with the great majority of people who have been to school, that geocentrism is false. His words, though, are not clear or solemn enough to constitute a formal rescinding of the decrees of his predecessors or of the passage cited from the Roman Catechism. He speaks of errors of unnamed theologians, and doesn’t mention the papal decrees or the catechism. Again, a speech of this kind to a pontifical academy is of less weight than a decree of the Holy Office published by order of the pope. The former seems intended as a useful contribution to a debate, the latter is simply an exercise of the papal magisterium, telling Catholics what they ought to believe.

I incline then, to the view that geocentrism belongs at least to the category of doctrines mentioned by canon 751 of the present Code: ‘While the assent of faith is not required, a religious submission of intellect and will is to be given to any doctrine which either the supreme pontiff or the college of bishops, exercising their authentic magisterium, declare upon a matter of faith and morals, even though they do not intend to proclaim that doctrine by definitive act.’

However, since popes since the 19th century have shown that they do not intend to enforce this religious submission, it does not seem right to characterise those who do not yield it as disobedient.

A new essay from Fr Brian Harrison:-

The Last Judgement. The Louvre.

At first sight, there might seem to be nothing to say. ‘You know neither the day nor the hour’, as the Lord says, and again, ‘it is not for you to know the time or moments’. On the other hand, He does foretell the signs of His return, and tells us to judge that He is ‘near’ when certain things take place.

There is an impressive amount of patristic testimony assigning a period of between 6,000 and 7,000 years to the history of mankind. The Scriptural basis for this is the combination of Genesis 1 (7 days, of which only six are said to be completed) and 2 Peter 3:8 (that a day is as a thousand years). Here are some examples:-

Epistle of Barnabas: ‘ And God made in six days the works of His hands, and made an end on the seventh day, and rested on it, and sanctified it. Attend, my children, to the meaning of this expression, He finished in six days. This implies that the Lord will finish all things in six thousand years, for a day is with Him a thousand years. And He Himself testifies, saying, Behold, today will be as a thousand years (chapter 15).

St Irenaeus: ‘The six hundred years of Noah, in whose time the deluge occurred because of the apostasy, and the number of the cubits of the image for which these just men {Ananias, Azarias and Misael, in Dan. 3} were sent into the fiery furnace, do indicate the number of the name of that man in whom is concentrated the whole apostasy of six thousand years” (Adversus Haereses V, 29).

St Hippolytus: ‘we are obliged to discuss the matter of the times, of which a man should not speak hastily… 6,000 years must needs be accomplished, in order that the Sabbath may come, the rest, the holy day on which God rested from all His works. …”A day with the Lord is as a thousand years“. Since, then, in six days God made all things, it follows that 6,000 years must be fulfilled’ (Second fragment on Daniel).

St Cyprian: ‘What, indeed, do we find in the Maccabees of seven brethren, equals alike in their lot of birth and virtues, filling up the number seven in the sacrament of a perfected completion? Seven brethren were thus associating in martyrdom, as the first seven days in the divine arrangement containing seven thousand of years, as the seven spirits and seven angels which stand and go in and out before the face of God, and the seven-branched lamp in the tabernacle of witness, and the seven golden candlesticks in the Apocalypse, and the seven columns in Solomon upon which Wisdom built her house’ (Treatise XI, Exhortation to Martyrdom, 11).

St Victorinus: ‘To those seven days the Lord attributed to each a thousand years; for thus went the warning: In Your eyes, O Lord, a thousand years are as one day. Therefore in the eyes of the Lord each thousand of years is ordained, for I find that the Lord’s eyes are seven {Zech 4:10). Wherefore, as I have narrated, that true Sabbath will be in the seventh millenary of years, when Christ with His elect shall reign’ (On the Creation of the World).

St Hilary: ‘After six days, the aspect of the Lord’s glory is shown: that is, six times of a thousand years having gone by, the honour of the heavenly kingdom is prefigured’ (Commentary on Matt.17,1).

St Jerome: ‘ “A thousand years in thy sight as yesterday“.  From this passage, and from the epistle which is attributed to the apostle Peter, I conclude that the custom comes of taking a thousand years for one day; with the result, that is, that just as the universe was fashioned in six days, so one believes [credatur] that it will last only six thousand years, and that afterwards will come the sevenfold and the eightfold number, when the true sabbath will be kept, and the purity of the circumcision [i.e. baptismal innocence] will be restored’ (epistle 140.8).

St Gaudentius: ‘We wait for that truly holy day of the seven thousandth year which will follow those six days, that is the six thousand years’ (Treatise 10).

St Augustine: ‘Now the thousand years {of Apoc. 20}, as it seems to me, can be interpreted in two ways. It may indicate that this event happens in the last thousand years, that is, in the sixth millennium….Alternatively, he may have intended the thousand years to stand for the whole period of this world’s history’ (City of God, XX, 7). {However, in his commentary on Ps. 89, St Augustine finds fault with those who combine the verse ‘thousand years are as one day’ and the week of creation to conclude that the world will last six thousand years, referring to our Lord’s words about it not being for us to know the times and the seasons.}

Cornelius a Lapide, in his commentary on the Apocalypse, also cites St Cyril, St Isidore and St Germanus of Constantinope for the same opinion, but without adequate references. On the other hand, he cites St Ambrose as opposing it, on the grounds that more than 6,000 years had already passed from the creation. Lapide notes that Ambrose was not following the Hebrew chronology: according to Lapide’s own calculations, the world was created 3950 BC.

Among later authors, Bellarmine says ‘there has always been the famous belief of those who hold that the world will last 6,000 years, since God created the world in six days, and one day in his sight is as a thousand years.’ He remarks that it is has not yet been possible to refute this opinion by experience. He praises Augustine’s moderation, whom he understands to consider this opinion ‘probable’.

Lapide likewise considers the opinion to be sufficiently common as to count as ‘a probable conjecture’. But given our Lord’s words, ‘of that day and hour no one knows’, he adds that we should understand the number 6,000 to mean that the world will not last more complete millennia than six; but whether it will fall short of the seventh millennium by years, decades or even centuries, he says, we cannot tell.

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